What Does “Esoteric” Mean?

The High Priest stands before the veil of the Israelite Temple.

The High Priest stands before the veil of the Israelite Temple.

A column in the Deseret News last Friday by Professors William J. Hamblin and Daniel C. Peterson explains the meaning of esoteric and exoteric.  Their article describes the roots of these terms, and their use in antiquity.  Particularly insightful is the use of esōteros in the New Testament, which has reference to the veil of the Temple. They note,

“Esoteric,” then, in its original biblical meaning, refers to the teachings and practices done within the Temple. This concept helps us understand that in the Israelite world view there were public, exoteric rites and teachings performed in the outer court of the Temple in view of all the people, including Gentiles. There were also esoteric rites and teachings performed within the temple building and restricted to the priests or even to the High Priest alone.

That Christ taught esoteric teachings is clear from his use of a similar term mustērion, or “mystery” – “Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God” (Luke 8:10, Matthew 13:11).

A presentation given by Professor Hamblin goes into greater depth on this subject.

Read the full article at the Deseret News.

One Comment

  1. Posted July 19, 2013 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

    The rites of the Israelite Tabernacle and Temples were esoteric or mysterious to the common people. As they all
    pointed to the coming of the Messiah Jesus. The High Priest entering the Holiest of Holy on Day of Atonement
    must have seemed esoteric, because only He and the other Priests and Levites knew what transpired. So also
    in the rites of the Egyptian temples at Thebes and Luxor, the inner sanctum being reserved for the Pharoah and
    the priests.
    So today the rites that take place in the L.D.S. temples may seem esoteric or mysterious to those not of the Church. Even though the rites themselves are not just ancient,so far as this earth, they have been around for
    the Saints from before the foundation of the world. All are symbolic and they lead to the eternal progress of
    those who participate in them on condition of keeping all the covenants made,to be able to receive more in the
    next step and beyond. All L.D.S. ordinances, just like the Hebrew, point to Jesus Christ,see Temple Worship
    by Andrew Skinner,Rational Theology by John Widtsoe, God’s Greatest Gift by Theodore Burton and Nibley’s
    Temple and Cosmos.

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